“From Nostalgia to New”

“From Nostalgia to New”
Psalm 66:8-16 ; Acts 1:1-11
Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert
May 21, 2023

In early 2016 I made summertime plans to visit my brother and sister-in-law in Chicago, and somewhere in my planning, I saw “The Max” restaurant had come to Chicago. Many of you may not know what to make of that reference, but some of you may well recall…

“The Max” was the name of the restaurant in the early 90s TV show Saved by the Bell. At least a few minutes of every single episode was shot in The Max. Think the Cheers bar or the Enterprise from Star Trek.

Iconic locations associated with a beloved era of characters and stories.

Well, Chicago had a ‘pop-up’ replica of it, and it was open for business.

As one who spent a good chunk of his childhood glued to the characters and storylines of Saved by the Bell, my reaction was visceral and immediate: I dropped everything, went to The Max website, and tried to figure out how to land a table during my visit.

Apparently, many others had visceral reactions. The Max was already booked solid for months on end. The restaurant did note, however, that each night at 10pm they would open the doors for a final round of seating. First come, first served.

So what do you think we were doing at 9pm on one of the evenings I visited Chicago?

You better believe my brother and I were standing with a couple dozen others along a semi-lit Chicago alleyway waiting…

And yes, we did get in. And yes, the inside was a spot-on, perfect replica of the beloved one that Zack Morris and the Saved by the Bell gang enjoyed every weekday afternoon of my childhood.

Within minutes, my brother and I were seated, ordered a were enjoying our $35 meals – each one consisting of an average-sized hamburger, some fries, and a drink.

For the equivalent of average fast-food, you paid WHAT!? 

That is the irrational power of nostalgia.

Nostalgia is derived from the Greek nostos (‘return home’) and algos (‘pain’), which means it is quite literally an ache to return home. More precisely, the home of yesterday.

A home cherished.
A home beloved.
A home, even, that perhaps was quite ordinary or painful or confusing but today our memory casts it with a golden glow and inexplicable longing.

‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’

“Is now the time when the golden glow of yesterday becomes today, again?”

Centuries ago the Kingdom of Israel had been very briefly restored under King David – all twelve tribes of Israel reunited and Israel a formidable military and political power. The whole it was hardly a continually pristine reality as it unfolded… but in time that era had become, certainly, an image of God’s family together and “home” and a vision of what could be again.

“Jesus, now that you have risen from the grave, proven more powerful that the very worst that sin and death can do…will you need harness your power to bring back yesterday, today?”

To be sure, the disciples have reason to have this kind of hope. When Mary was pregnant with Jesus the angel told her this Jesus will be given “the Throne of David” (Luke 1:32).

But even after three years of Jesus’ ministry making clear that his kingdom was very different from the political kingdom for which many hoped… the potent pull of nostalgia was stronger still.

Nostalgia has a logic all it’s own.

In my case, when I first read about the Saved by the Bell pop-up, it went something like this in my deep unconscious space where nostalgia works its logic: You’re telling me someone went out, built one of the central images of my yesterday-home from an era that feels far more predictable and safe and I spent my days with friends and sports and my parents were still married… and its sitting in the middle Chicago right this moment?! 

A dark alleyway line + $35 felt dirt-cheap for a ticket back home.

Have you known the ache for a yesterday home?

We can name specifics from our personal life, I’m sure.
We see versions of take hold of our national narrative.
We see it in the church itself.

And look, a visit to nostalgia – pouring over old photos, walking through the home of our childhood, playing the music of our formative years – a beautiful way to give thanks for the kind of home that was good enough to create an ache in the first place.

The danger is when we try to take a past home and make a future vision.

We as a church know that society has changed and continues to change and that things are not like they were 50 years ago – or even 10 and 20 years ago.

And yet how easily a vision of successful and good and faithful church is one full of human beings in one dedicated worship space on Sunday morning. Because, for many, that image is flooded with beloved names and faces from yesterday – and also smells and sounds and tastes.

“Lord, if we keep this property up and double down on our organizing and energy and effort… will this be the time you bring us back home just like it was? We’ll pay whatever for that home…”

The ancient wisdom of the Bible has long anticipated the human heart’s natural inclination on this front.

Do not say, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this. (Ecclesiastes 7:10).

Jesus didn’t – but he could have quoted that verse to the disciples when they asked if he was going to restore yesterday to today.

Jesus could have said “blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted,” because the truth is, the stronger the nostalgia, the stronger the ache for something or someone yesterday, the stronger the grief is today. I would suggest that the reason nostalgia sells so potently in pop culture and politics and even in paintings and décor… I think it is very much related to the fact that so many of us carry a great deal of grief amid so much change, so much loss, so very quickly.

Jesus could have comforted the disciples, but didn’t.

He could have been blunt that the God who is in the business of making all things new,
the God of new creation,
the God of hopes so far beyond all we could even know to ask for or imagine…this God does not live in sun-kissed past that was not as glowing as we now remember it. He could have spoken hard, true theological truths. But didn’t.

No… Jesus does not quote Ecclesiastes or comfort the grief or teach a theology lesson … he paints the picture of the future vision complete with a promise for his disciples:

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’

Which is to say… “No one is coming here to rebuild a political kingdom in Israel. People shall not come like magnets unto the glorious ‘home’ of God’s people.”

Rather, God’s people are going to go among their own people (Jerusalem and Judea),
among their enemies (Samaria),
and to complete strangers (the ends of the earth)

…and in those encounters God’s people are going to live in such way that they witness to Jesus.

They show and speak and live the body of Jesus on earth as it is in heaven. Out there.

If there is a vision of ‘home’ in our passage, it’s about God’s people finding new homes again and again among all those people and the conversation and work and realities unfolding in those spaces.

I was at an event at the Lark&Owl bookstore just off the other side of the Square here in Georgetown. It was an evening event where three panelists were discussing a book by retired Presbyterian pastor Lou Snead entitled Confessions of a Recovering Racist: What White People Must Do to Overcome Racism in America.

You can imagine how fraught this whole thing felt. Turns out they had 50 spots available to RSVP for the event, and it sold out. They decided to set up more than their usual that night and let a few more off the waiting list.

And it was a mix of folks – a handful from this church, some from other churches I recognized, some I knew were not church people at all, and some – I don’t know. Some I knew to be politically this way. Some the other way. And some – dunno.

It opened with a Native American women reading a land acknowledgement – she named aloud in honor and thanks for tribes who originally inhabited the land. That was a pretty unique opening for almost everyone there.

From there we heard stories and insights and questions. We heard a Black women speak movingly about the fear she has for the well-being of her children and how her sense of hope is low these days. We heard another Black woman stand up and say that she finds hope in those like Harriet Tubman who went long before her and did far more with far less.

We heard Lou Snead himself confess and talk about his own racial bias.
We heard a story about a Black man and White man in Georgetown who’ve become deep, soul-level friends over these past dozen years – and they sat next to one another at this event.

We heard one Black woman stand up and say if any of the white people wanted a Black friend they could just ask questions, get some perspective – she’ll do lunch. She’ll do coffee.

Another Black woman said, “I’m grateful she’s doing that. But you need to know, that’s not me. I’m tired and I can’t do that right now.”

The Native American woman finished the evening with a word about the centrality of relationships across difference.

I confess, those 90 minutes were at times pretty uncomfortable. And also uniquely insightful and inspiring – how many wanted to be in the thick of a hard conversation on a Tuesday night and ached for a better way with one another.

And at some point during that evening it struck me – we have Jerusalem here (which is to say, we have fellow church folks right here); we have Samaria (folks on the other side politically); we have ‘the ends of the earth’ (strangers whose stories and backgrounds and ethnicities are foreign to another in significant ways).

And the call of the church is not – let’s get all these people into this room and do this particular Sunday rhythm but rather – how do we keep getting here?

If this is where people are showing up to the point of selling out…if this is the hard conversation and work some are doing in the community… if this…is this then somehow, someway where you would have us witness? To be a witness to your person. Character. Action. Would you call us to make a home there?

Where do we sense ourselves called to be in and part of and even at home with the community?

It may not be something totally new and previously unconsidered… it may simply be recognizing that we already spend a great deal of time with someone or someones and we remember today – that’s our call to let God’s love and light and truth shine through our being there. And to receive God’s love and light and truth through others in that space.

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’

10While Jesus was going and they were gazing up towards heaven…”

As commentators note, the sense here is of disciples standing stuck, wondering what to do – because it’s a lot to have their vision of ‘home’ turned inside out.

And certainly, sometimes standing still and crying out is a faithful posture: Psalm 121: “I look up to the hills, but where does my help come from?”

But here it seems the issue is that the disciples are just not getting it, because two angels arrive and say, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven?” The tone, the implication is…

“Time to move. Time to trust. Time to live into work God has for you… out there. The very Spirit of Jesus himself is about to come upon you.” (Which is what happens next in the Act chapter 2 – Pentecost).

We may not relate to a longing for the Kingdom of David,
And we may not show up at Saved by the Bell pop-ups,

But what are the ways in which the ache of nostalgia can pull deeply upon our heart?

And does it ever have our feet stuck?
Our wallets stuck paying whatever to make it again?

And what does it look like to name afresh that our only home in life and in death is not our family of yesterday, our nation of yesterday, our church of yesterday…but our only home in life and death is Jesus?

And what if his word to us today is this?

  • “Look at the current folks who journey alongside you in life (Jerusalem).
  • Now look upon the folks who upset you greatly. Who grieve you greatly. The current enemies (Samaria).
  • And now peak toward people who are strange and different and entirely different ethnicities. Cultures. Or much younger. Much older. Peak at them for a moment (the “ends of the earth”).

Ok…That’s where you shall find home. That’s where I am calling you. That’s where I’m already at work. Time to move. Time to trust.”

Empowered by the God who is faithful to make a home in us and with us, may we step by faith. Amen.


About Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert